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Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir

Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir - Dave Mustaine, Joe Layden Let's get this first out of the way: yes, in my tender years I was a huge Megadeth/Mustaine fan even though Metallica for sure always churned out more consistent albums, and like many others I consider "Master of Puppets" (1984) to be the reference metal album that shows where your music really stands - what separates good from truly phenomenal.

For someone who "started" with Guns N' Roses' Illusions (1991) and "Lies" (1988), even Metallica's Black album (1991) seemed at first too noisy… ;) When I feel like I need an antidote to contemporary music or want to take a trip down the metal memory lane, just a handful of classic metal albums (by my definition that is) does the trick for me. Because let's face it: a lot of metal is more or less redundant shite.

I don't follow US politics actively but I sometimes have this urge to find out what's happening in the alternative universe called Dave Mustaine. He's just one of those rare people who seem larger than life, and he truly was one of my biggest idols back in the day.

Mustaine's personal "transformation" from "Countdown to Extinction" -era Mustaine to latter days' born-again christian who seemingly seems to favor spouting wild conspiracy theories these day, is pretty mind-boggling and more than little off-putting for someone who hasn't really been following Mustaine's musical career since 1997.

I don't think it's fair to judge anyone based solely on seeing her/him on a few youtube clips. If you read this memoir, you will get a much fairer picture of the man - warts and all. Mustaine for sure needs to go out more, talk to more people than just Alex Jones and generally get his hands on books and papers that might challenge his views and opinions.

Recovering alcoholics/druggies always find themselves suddenly with a lot more time on their hands, and most will be at lost as to what to do with it. Some go to church, some get interested in politics. Mustaine apparently does both. I salute anyone who expresses their distaste for political games and scheming. And if going to church and/or believing in some deity keeps you from hurting yourself and those around you, then I suppose it does more good than harm.

Anyways, I think "Countdown to Extinction" (1992) is to blame for turning me into a political being/animal. Hetfield never really let us see his political side (even still) other than on very general, superficial level. With Mustaine it was pretty obvious from the start that he's a guy who is not afraid to voice his opinion whether we like it or not.

Of course by playing it safe, you never upset/alienate people/fans. It's very understandable on so many levels (financially, personal relations, and so on), it's probably more or less instinctual, too, but it's also a cop-out. It either shows a lack of understanding (intellectual laziness) or lack of moral fibre (doing what is easy rather than what is right) - or both.

Mustaine has quick wits but little education. Unfortunately lack of education tends to show as people get older (and sober).

But of course almost all rockers are void of proper education. If you combine that with less than stellar intellectual capacity (let's face it: there are a lot of hippies out there in the entertainment business), it's no wonder that most people would just prefer to listen to these entertainers play their music and keep their mouths shut as much as possible, rather than the opposite.

On the contrary there's no doubt in my mind that had Mustaine stuck to school and eventually gone onto college, he might even have become somewhat of an intellectual giant - never mind the field - and all-round fun guy to be with.

Per my experience personal traits tend to remain. Mustaine's a fighter by nature but he's always come across as pretty jovial, down to earth, and generally well-meaning fella - something I think that readers will pick up from his memoir as well.

I struggle to see douchebagness in Mustaine. He's opinionated, and I certainly think he's misguided particularly in some of his latter days views and use of rhetorics, but an asshole? I don't think so.

Assholes do not take the risk of getting beaten up for defending their friends. Assholes are people who turn their backs on you instead. Assholes are people who dump you on the eve of success, bigger assholes dump you when "they" hit it big time. First grade assholes are the ones who put you on the bus while waiting for a replacement to arrive the same day or the next.

First grade assholes are people who in this case use you and your songs to not merely further their own career but to start one in the first place. First grade assholes are people who do not give you the credit you deserve other than what is minimally required by law and/or base human decency. But maybe the biggest assholes are those who let other people ultimately decide what is beneficial for you as well?

There are people who have strong moral fiber to begin with, and there are people who tend to take the easy way out when they can. Although, judging from the painstakingly awkward situation where Mustaine was called up to share a stage with Metallica, and Hetfield particularly, for the first time since being "let go" from the band, it's more than evident that sacking Mustaine was anything but easy on Hetfield all those eons ago. Unless he's a really good actor (doubt it), that's what being still ashamed of betraying people you (used to) love pretty much looks like when caught on tape.

For the record I agree with Hammett's views that all Mustaine wanted to do (then) was to play fast. That has always been the weak spot for technically gifted players. In heavy metal scene particularly being a guitar whiz is your best shot at being an alpha male.

This is something that Mustaine himself indirectly admits in his memoir: if playing guitar equals pussy, then playing better than the next guy (read: faster) should equal more pussy. That's the logic anyways, and from what I can gather, this is (still) somewhat true. Mustaine tells us that he too was skeptical at first about all the excesses attached to so-called r'n'r lifestyle… Well, we all know how that turned out.

Best songs (meaning songs you will never grow entirely tired of hearing) are almost always melodically simplistic tunes that everyone can whistle/hum along to at will. If you can't hum it, don't write it (that is unless music means more to you than being some competition about who gets to win the biggest audiences). Metallica realized this and they went with that. Mustaine either didn't or wouldn't. He was more into pushing the envelope, pushing his own limits.

Both bands made their members rich but there are no surprises here who ultimately won the popularity contest. Metallica became a household name that your grandmother could recognize, but you'd have to be a headbanger to even recognize a brand called Megadeth. That's just the way it is and will be.

Mustaine, like so many outwardly confident people, often seem pretty brash. Even though many of them, Mustaine including, are more or less insecure on the inside particularly when it comes to their status among their peers. Some are incredibly insecure and incredibly vain as well.

I don't think it's an issue of vanity when Mustaine tells about how much it meant to him to see that he was placed as the top dog among world's metal guitarist. I think he's being sincere.

Of course everyone needs some measure of verification, but as people grow old and mature they tend to need less of it. It's sad that a guy whose guitar playing chops no one in the know disputes still at the age of 48 needs to "see it in black and white".

At the very least this Joel Ivers fella would have to be a pretty proficient guitarist himself and know some music theory too to even claim to be an authority on the subject. But in the end guitar playing skills is all subjective anyways. One guitarist simply can't please all.

Take home message is that Mustaine still requires that validation. Maybe less than before, but he needs to hear it. I don't think Mustaine's an exception, though. Others may be just better at keeping such self-doubting sentiments at bay or at least better hidden from the fans and/or public eye.

I suppose for many if not all artists their career is this on-going personal therapy session that aims to prove to themselves that they are just as good and worthy as anyone else, that they too deserve other people's attention and yes, even admiration.

Nothing wrong with that as long as you're not kidding yourself. There are multitude of performing artists who never write their own stuff, who can't play a single instrument, who are totally content in living in the bubble where they view themselves as the sole reason that this music that they perform even exists.

I appreciate any artist who has managed to make me think and Mustaine is one of the few artists that succeeded in that. I am grateful to Mustaine for that fact alone.

But rockers really should have the decency to step down when they still have some credibility left. When I see acts like Metallica, Foo Fighters etc. still perform their "angry" stuff, it's more than absurd, it's ridiculous and phony.

Know when it's your time to move on to other venues and leave headbanging to guys who still bear a grudge to their ex-girlfriends (or just mom and dad)...

Actually I can only come up with one metal band, Type O Negative, that could simultaneously in a way make fun of metal, its cliches, its imagery, yet still be a "serious" and original band you'd actually want to listen to. It's a funny world.

While Megadeth's "Cryptic Writings" (1997) pretty much ended my love affair with all things metal, in hindsight it proved that Mustaine is in reality a very versatile and capable songwriter who could probably operate in just about any musical genre if he really wanted/allowed himself to.

Per my experience there just aren't that many technically good singers around in the popular music sphere, and Dave for sure ain't one of them.

It's always a big bonus if someone can actually sing well too, but as long as the music's good and the singing is at the very least bearable, I'd rather listen to "bad" singers - each and every time - who have something to say.

Hetfield's grunting may be easier on the ears, but Mustaine's sense of varying singing "approaches" is much more satisfying for me. Mustaine's signature snarl combined with his sense of theatrics together helped to create a recognizable, I'd even go as far as say unique, sound. But alas, I've always been more or less dissappointed hearing - not to mention seeing - Megadeth live. Like most bands Megadeth excels on record.

Use of theatrics in metal music is like walking on a tight rope. Too much, and you tend to sound (and too often than not also look) like Manowar. Then again, too little and you sound, well, a little boring.

It's obvious that neither Mustaine nor Hetfield ever bothered to take singing lessons if only to learn to breathe with more ease. And that is why Hetfield always resorts to doing his signature yeah -yell at the end of every line because otherwise he'd probably pass out or it would sound even worse live than what it already is. Mustaine manages (just barely, though) to replicate better what he sounds on record. Because of Mustaine's and Hetfield's less than adequate live singing I could never really relax and just enjoy these bands play live.

I never fail to give credit to good singers (Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose, Phil Anselmo, Bruce Dickinson - just to name a few) but I also fully acknowledge just how hard a combination it really is to sing and play simultaneously in a live situations - especially if you are drunk, high or both (which in rock music happens more often than not).

Anyone can learn to strum three chords and croak at the same time. It turns into whole other ball game when you up the ante. At Mustaine's guitar playing level the fact that he can simultaneously sing at all, more or less blows my mind. Mustaine plays intricate, fast rhythms parts at greatest of ease but he is also no worse playing technically demanding leads.

Quite often when people like to assert that some (usually solo) guitarist's playing has a "soul", it just means her/his chops are limited if not downright lacking. If Slash - for example - wanted to play Mustaine's licks, he'd not only have to toss away his cig while attempting to do so, he'd most likely flat out fail.

Don't get me wrong: Slash is by all accounts a nice guy, a legit rock icon and yes, even a noted guitar legend, too. That's all fine and good but it says precious little about his guitar playing. It takes more than just blues scales to call anyone a guitar hero. And I'm not bashing blues here, either.

I think it's more than telling why with some guitarists people will much rather talk about their sound (that is how good they sound) as opposed to how they play (that is how well they can actually play). But like I said before, I'll rather listen to someone who writes good tunes than someone who runs her/his fingers the fastest on the fretboard.

That's why I don't listen to likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. If I want to listen to instrumental music, I'll head on to classical section. Why listen to faux-Paganini when I can have the real thing instead? The great composers of the 17th to 19th century made music that I could feel in my guts. I don't know what Malmsteen and friends are trying to do but to me it's not music. It sounds like something you'd do to warm up before you actually start playing music.

I don't know how many musicians there are who could top Mustaine in his own game. Matthew Bellamy from Muse could probably pull it off - while singing beautifully, too - but it would inevitably sound campy.

But I digress.

When Mustaine made the "decision" not to dumb down his guitar playing (I'm assuming here) even when performing live, that in hindsight most likely helped to cement his band as the "second best" in the business. Sound- and songwriting wise Metallica was always much more consistent band. While Megadeth experimented and evolved (Mustaine changing the lineup like socks), Metallica had time to perfect their art.

That's probably what happens when another band gets a head start and a mostly intact unit that is already comfortable playing together. Mustaine didn't have that luxury to fall back on when he was trying to kick start his career. Rather than exaggerating his role in early Metallica he positively downplays it.

If what I read is true - and Mustaine has always seemed pretty open and honest about what went down and why - there basically wasn't even a band to speak of when Mustaine "auditioned" to join Ulrich's and Hetfield's hobbyist posse. They had like one song recorded on a crappy demo tape, and not much else. Mustaine on the other hand was already a more or less skilled guitarist who already had a real band together. A band that actually did gigs and not just daydreamed about it…

That's why it's so puzzling why Mustaine doesn't care to elaborate why he decided to stick with Lars and James in the first place even though he clearly thought that they were much greener around the ears than he was was when it came to playing and writing music (and apparently life in general)? When these new comrades even seemed to lack basic skills at playing an instrument - Lars particularly? Why not just continue with the band he already had, and try to make some changes there?

No one knows, because he's not telling us.

I'm personally guessing that more than growing tired of Mustaine's substance abuse and/or violent temper, Lars and James probably then just decided that it's not going to work if and when there are two or even three people who want to lead the band.

Strictly financial-wise you better sack people before they get the chance to sack you! However, it's not something you do to a friend. Hell, it's not something you do to a hired gun, either. I have a hard time believing that Mustaine would be so bad judge of character as to misgive their relationship to be one of business and not of comradeship/friendship.

So, I'm going to go as far as claim that both Hetfield and Ulrich were also more than just little intimidated by Mustaine's self-assertiveness, apparent quick wits, charisma/stage presence and yes, even good looks.

Speaking of good looks, it's actually quite funny and maybe more than just little telling that Mustaine is more or less homophobic, yet it was always supremely important to him that the guys in his band also look the part. No bald (or balding) guys, only guys with healthy long hairs. I suppose one doesn't have to give second chances to balding guys, eh?

I can relate to Mustaine's animosity towards Metallica - to some extent that is. The way they let Mustaine go was fitting for cowards. If Mustaine is/was an alpha male, then Hetfield and Ulrich (and later Hammett) seemed in comparison like the quintessential momma's boys who at most talked the talk but never walked the walk. I've known friends who when shit hits the fan are the first to bail out. I've always got the same feeling about those three guys in Metallica.

I suppose there just aren't that many folks around who are truly willing to take a beating in order to defend a friend or friends. Mustaine took the heat for his buddies on more than one occation and I for one must admire him for doing that. Moral principles define a man.

Rather than revealing a little about what he felt in such and such times and how he dealt with such and such issues, Mustaine (or rather his ghost writer) pretty much just lists what events took place in more or less chronological order.

Mustaine's childhood and youth is left pretty sketchy. It's understandable if he honestly doesn't know much about his early childhood, but you'd figure someone in the family would! This is very unsatisfying for me personally. They named the book "Mustaine" after all, not "Story of Megadeth" which it is much more so.

I also have a hard time believing that there were no authorities involved at all during that time when Mustaine allegedly lived all by himself in his mother's house in his teens while supporting himself by selling drugs. It's as if no one knew what was going on or just didn't care. Seems unlikely, particularly considering that Mustaine later moved to Idaho to live with his older sister's family for a year or so.

I don't want rags to riches stories (particularly if they are unfounded), I just want to know what happened. Nothing more, nothing less.

As always I'm much more interested in learning about the artist's internal world, about the daily drudgery/joys, the creative processes and so on. I don't really care how much dope someone did or how many chicks someone banged if there's no real learning process involved. Banging groupies isn't something a rocker even has to put great effort into - on the contrary. More than anything that kind of a behavior is more or less abuse of power.

At the end of the day Mustaine remains a mystery. A believer in second chances. A guy who will protect those who are dear to him by force if necessary (and preferably?). What else?

All in all this book isn't the definitive book about a man called Mustaine I was hoping for but it's the best we have. I end this tirade with a quote from the man himself that quite possible explains a lot why Mustaine is, well, Mustaine:

" I begged to differ with almost everything just for the sake of being argumentative. But that's me. I'm a sarcastic fucker. "